Sunday, June 1, 2014

SPD lawsuit deserves no sympathy

It must be admitted that for some people, power gets to their heads, and who has more de facto power in this country than the people who wield behind the protection of a badge? Of course not all officers of the law join the force thrilling to the idea of urban combat with a license to kill. Unfortunately, some do. And after many outrageous use-of-force incidents (that were “unluckily” recorded on video) and the impression that this was “standard,” even required, behavior, the Seattle Police Department found itself under the scrutiny of the Justice Department. The shooting of John T. Williams—a Native America woodcarver who was serial inebriate but otherwise harmless—by an apparently excitable SPD officer, was the last straw for the public in a string of incidents that finally led to a federal investigation of serial civil rights violations and excessive force by the department.

The subsequent findings of the investigation confirmed a culture of abuse of power and contempt for civil rights, especially that of minorities. After months of defiance against any and all reform by the police and its union, the city and the feds came to grudging terms on a watered-down plan to force accountability on the part of police. But as noted a few weeks ago, police monitors have met with little but resistance and hostility; acceptance of reform from top-to-bottom, particularly during hearings in regard to deadly force incidents, is practically non-existent. There is a continuing refusal to examine police actions leading up to shootings, which suggests that some officers go into an incident with their heads in a wrong place from the start—and they believe it is perfectly “acceptable” to stay there.

Now comes news that over 100 SPD officers have filed a lawsuit against the city and the Justice Department, claiming that use-of-force reform (such as it is) is “unrealistic” and a “bold, new disregard for police authority in the streets of Seattle.” The officers claim that this puts themselves and the public in “unreasonable danger” due t0 “hesitation” and “paralysis.”

Now, let’s take a step back and examine this claim. What is it telling us about how police regard use-of-force—and more specifically deadly force—as a function of their daily business? It seems to “suggest” that police believe that their authority is based not on law but on being bullies. It is the threat of not just violence, but deadly violence, which underscores their authority. The lawsuit suggests that police have more “training” in with dealing mentally-challenged “suspects” than the police monitor, yet one may remember the case of the obviously unbalanced black male some years ago who was seen walking in a haphazard manner as if drunk in Queen Ann. He was also waving a knife at no one in particular; the police who confronted had plenty of choices on how to deal with him. The one they chose was to shoot him dead on the spot. Is this what their “training” is all about? If you and me did this, we would likely be in prison; if the police do it, they are just doing their  “job.”

And what is this “hesitation” and “paralysis” business? What is this business about the police being “burdened” by too much “thinking” when confronted by a pot smoker or jaywalker? I understand that police must be on their guard for someone who simply wants to shoot a cop because he doesn’t like cops; the problem is that this is a very rare circumstance. Far more likely is the case that police create a dangerous situation and make themselves feel as if they are potential targets—but only because of the hostility in the “suspect” they created in the first place. 

The Seattle Times complained about the drop in “low level crimes,” but what does that have to do with use-of-force and deadly force? One of the new policies that the officers oppose is “It is inappropriate to use force to punish or retaliate against people; or against people who verbally confront officers; or against handcuffed or restrained individuals.” It wasn’t just the Williams shooting that brought all this on. It was incidents like the beating of “mouthy” man by half-dozen cops for no other reason inside a precinct lobby. It was incidents like the one where a Latino man was randomly detained in a prone position on the ground, kicked in the head and pelted with racial slurs. It was innocent people getting their heads crushed against walls after being chased by Black Shirts. It was people with obvious medical conditions being tasered to death. It was unarmed people being shot to death—rather than disabled—for reasons that outrages one’s sense of humanity. 

It was thousands of use-of-force incidents every year that suggest a bunker mentality among SPD officers, going into minority “war zones” looking for “action,” and the wanton “Dirty Harry” disregard for civil rights, and the absolute refusal to recognize and correct their behavior that brought all this trouble on them. They didn’t deserve any “sympathy” then, and they don’t deserve any now.

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